There was once a time when blues music was a popular force in American radio. Funk dominated the '70s. Folk singer-songwriters once ruled Billboard charts.
Now, blues rarely strays outside the confines of blues clubs, funk music is a garden from which hip-hop artists occasionally harvest to create new sounds, and singer-songwriters are relegated to coffee shops and small venues at small towns across America.
Is rock music headed toward the same fate as these genres? It's not as outrageous a question as you'd think. Sure, there are still thousands of rock bands churning out new albums each year, but how many of those bands are part of the monoculture? More importantly, how many of them are selling 10,000 tickets a night around the globe, with the vast majority of those ticket-buyers being the younger demographic that has spurned distorted guitars for electronic drums and synthesizers?
The answer is not many. But the exception to that rule is Australian band 5 Seconds of Summer. And on Saturday night at Ak-Chin Pavilion, the band proved that rock isn't dead. The deafening screams of thousands of teenage girls proved it.
It's been just two years since 5 Seconds of Summer released the first of its two studio albums. Since then, the first point of reference for the band are boy bands like Jonas Brothers and One Direction; the latter group gave 5 Seconds of Summer their first big break when they took them on a 63-date world tour in 2013. The band — whose members ages are 20, 20, 20, and 22 — told Rolling Stone that even after all the band's success, they can't seem to shake the ugly connotations of sub-par musicianship that come with being a boy band.
"Seventy-five percent of our lives is proving we're a real band," drummer Ashton Irwin told the magazine. "We don't want to just be, like, for girls. We want to be for everyone. That's the great mission that we have. I'm already seeing a few male fans start to pop up, and that's cool. If the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and all those guys can do it, we can do it, too."
Yes, 5 Seconds of Summer, right now, appeals mainly to the same demographic as your average boy band. The thing is, they're also a fantastic rock band. Seeing them live, you understand why they care so much about being perceived as a band and not just a group. They're really, really good at performing. Hell, these little Nickelback-loving pop-punks from Australia put on a clinic on how to play an engaging rock show Saturday night, showing more poise, energy, showmanship, excitement, and yes, technical skill than most bands touring these days.
Each member has the same sort of high, somewhat whiny archetypical pop-punk voice. Most bands can barely scrape together one competent vocalist; these guys have four. Guitarists Luke Hemmings and Michael Clifford can flat-out shred, yet neither display the spotlight-hogging tendencies (at least not yet) of guys like Eddie Van Halen or Keith Richards. Drummer Irwin is no slouch, either.
The crowd at Ak-Chin Pavilion was mostly female, but dudes: There should be no shame liking this band. At least, no more shame than liking any other pop-punk group like Blink-182 or Jimmy Eat World. They write their own songs, play their own instruments; they're the real deal.
Yep, the show felt a bit scripted at times, especially as each of the four band members took turns addressing the crowd every three songs or so.
"Phoenix, Arizona, what's up?" asked pretty much every single member of 5 Seconds of Summer, who each did the typical kiss-up-to-the-audience act. Clifford was particularly cheeky, adding at one point, "Don't tell the other audiences, but you might be our favorite place to play in the entire world."
"You guys hold a special place in our hearts," bassist Calum Hood told the crowd.
But cliched banter aside, the performance itself was outstanding. The transitions between songs were seamless, the bands ended songs slightly differently than on the studio albums, the guitar solos were tight and technical, all the singers' voices sounded excellent.
Rock may be dying, but it's not dead yet. For better or for worse, 5 Seconds of Summer is now the young face of rock music's shriveling monoculture. Eat your heart out, America. Critic's Notebook:
Saturday Night: 5 Seconds of Summer at Ak-Chin Pavilion
Personal Bias: I really wanted to rip this band apart and declare "rock is dead." But in the end I was very close to using the term "man crush."
Overheard: "Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh! Omigoshomigoshomigosh. OH. MY. GOSH."
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Overheard 2: "I think 5 Seconds of Summer was at Hooters last night."
Random Notebook Dump: "Never underestimate the power of teenage girls screaming at the top of the their lungs."
Good Dads: Shout out to the dude with the short-cropped hair in the black polo tucked into the light-brown khakis to my left. You were so obviously a father you might as well have been holding a "world's best dad" coffee mug and mowing the lawn.
Carry On Intro
Long Way Home
Waste The Night
Jet Black Heart
End Up Here
Girls Talk Boys
What I Like About You
She's Kinda Hot
She Looks So Perfect